Fighting for Our Souls and Ideals
Published in abridged form 8/23/02 at
the Duke Chronicle
It is easy to say that
1) Live and let live: This underpins our freedom of choice and culture of the individual. While the 1st amendment gets all the glory, one of the most beautiful parts of our constitution is the 10th Amendment, “The powers not delegated to the
2) Empiricism: Americans are not wedded to any one ideology, and are wary of new “isms” but fond of things that work, focusing on goals, not processes. Empiricism, skepticism, and pragmatism fuel scientific inquiry (the beginning of any quest for truth, which is what science is about, are the words, “I don’t know). They also enable self-correction of mistakes in the government & society. The constitution’s preamble embodies this spirit: “We the people of the
3) Exploration: All the mind-bending special effects wizardry of LA does not hold a candle to the accomplishments of NASA, deep-sea divers, particle physicists, biomedical researchers, and their predecessors. This culture of exploration has bestowed a young and resource-endowed nation with unparalleled dynamism, a fascination with the future, an eternal optimistic can-do spirit, and unprecedented physical, social, and informational mobility.
4) Anyone can be an American: The Statue of Liberty proclaims the welcome of foreigners (although that is not always matched in reality). In stark contrast to countries that severely restrict immigration, allowing in foreigners only as menial laborers and indentured servants, and/or have citizenship requirements that one’s ancestor was a citizen in 1910, the US recognizes it is a nation of immigrants and confers opportunities to newcomers and their children—a marvelous engine of self-renewal. I will never forget my Chinese medical school classmate whose parents sold noodles on the streets of
5) The Rule of Law: John Adams wrote, “We are a nation of laws, not of men.” The careful system of checks and balances in the architecture of the Constitution, together with the rights of due process enshrined in the Bill of Rights, has shielded the world’s oldest democracy from the temptations of tyranny, moderated the passions of mobs, and protected our freedoms and the innocent. The mostly transparent nature of government and society is maintained by a vigorous judiciary and a free press, the organs of society that cast the light of day on government agencies and guard against abuse. The Freedom of Information Act reinforces the “public’s right to know.”
7) Separation of Church and State: The 1st amendment leads off, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” This sentence has protected religion from politics and government from fundamentalism; both are vital to our society, for faith stems from divine revelation and should not be polluted by mundane concerns while a democracy requires the ability to dissent and to say “I don’t know”, which a theocracy is incompatible with, witness the Taliban. Separation of institutions also underlies the separation of powers of and apolitical military that are key features of our government.
These principles have helped this country become great. To be sure, they have their drawbacks (gridlock, bureaucracy, materialism), and the
We can no longer hold the illusion, nourished by 2 great oceans and 2 friendly neighbors, that the